Keep These Words
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Pastor Megan Torgerson
This passage is the heart of the Bible. The entirety of God’s word as revealed to us in the Bible finds its center here. Scripture tells the story of God’s people, over and over again, choosing to follow the one true God, devoting themselves to love for this God, and living as people focused on God alone – and then messing it all up and forgetting and needing to be reminded all over again.
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus lifts up this passage when he’s asked what the greatest commandment is. He says we are to love God with everything we have and are. He adds that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is an appropriate way to condense the ten commandments, which come in the chapter just before this passage. This is it, people. This is who we are. We are people who love only God, God most of all, God beyond all things.
But it’s more than that. This passage forces us to admit that we need to be reminded that God alone is our only God. That God alone gives life and freedom. These words must live in our hearts, and the only way that happens is if we practice them daily. We are to teach our children how to live as one who loves and follows the one true God because then they learn and we learn as well. We’re to talk about it in our houses and in our communities, when we wake up and when we go to bed. We are to bind these promises to us physically, with our bodies and our minds and our homes and everything we touch, because if we can’t hold on to this promise, we’ll lose it. And there are lots of other gods out there fighting for your devotion.
And in some cases, God’s people were pretty literal about finding a new God. Whether it was a golden calf statue made of their own melted-down jewelry or a rain god they stole from their more glamorous neighbors, the Bible tells us explicit stories of the many, many times when God’s people refused to keep the Lord alone as their one God. Their disordered devotion led to death and destruction for both self and society.
But it’s not always quite so specific. We also put many, many things ahead of God in our devotion and worship, and we do it all the time, to our peril. I have two top contenders for you.
The first looks a lot like this: this is my dot journal; it’s the way I keep my to-do lists and schedules and shopping lists all together. Because we’re all busy, right? There’s never enough time. I practically have to make a to-do list to organize all my to-do lists. But how does your calendar reflect that you have one God, one God alone, and it is the Lord? Or rather, have you made being busy your god? Does all your heart, soul, and might go into avoiding your fear of missing out, or a need to be important, or a desire to be the best at whatever it is you’re scheduling? If I looked at your day planner, would I know that God is the only god of your life?
The second contender for our god is this dollar bill. And this one is even more sticky, because it even says, right here on a one dollar bill: “In God we trust”. But the god we worship and trust is the money itself. We obsess about getting more. We panic about not having enough. We rage about keeping what we deserve. We fight to prevent others from getting what’s ours. We worship money. What we recite to our children and bind as a sign to our doorposts is how we will do anything for money.
And I get it. Money is powerful. Money is necessary. But the Lord is our God, the Lord alone – not money. Therefore, we trust and worship a God who gives us all things and put everything else in its rightful place. Do not confuse God’s gifts with God. And rather than living in fear as servants to the gods of money and time who will always want more from us, we live in joy and hope as servants to the one God from whom all blessings flow.
If we who are God’s people are intended to keep these words, teach them to our children, talk about them all day every day, set them up around our houses and lives as basic reminders, then we have to take those two big false gods and put them in their place.
We have to use our time in such a way that reflects that even time itself is God’s gift. We must set aside time to learn, to study, to pray, to be in relationship, to come to worship – to order and structure our lives around our devotion to the one God who is God alone. It’s why you’ll hear me go back over and over to faith practices like prayer, study, devotion, service, worship, and fellowship – these things take up time. They are worth our time. We spend our time in this way to reflect that God has given us the gift of time and we give it right back to God.
The same is true with money. God entrusts this powerful tool to us, even knowing what power it could have over our lives – and we all know stories of money abused, manipulated, and made dirty. But even without that extreme, we are called to put money it its proper place. We are to structure it and order it so that our bank accounts reflect our faith in the one true God. We are to give thanks to the God who entrusts money to us and use it to God’s glory. We are to use money to care for ourselves and our families, to support and protect our communities, and to participate in God’s work in the world.
You’re going to hear us talk a lot about money this month, because at the end of the month, you will all be invited to make a financial commitment to the ministry of the congregation and its work in the world. You are invited to put the power of money in its proper place. I, along with the rest of the staff here, welcome your questions and challenges about what stewardship looks like, especially stewardship of our money, because we all know how hard it is to talk about the power of money in our lives.
My hope for you – my prayer for you – is that you will be able to recognize that the Lord is your God, the Lord alone, and that you will love God with all your heart, and your soul, and your might, and your time, and your money. You will bind this to you in your bank account and your credit card statement and your monthly budget and your calendar and your schedule, so that you can keep God’s commandments and promises in your heart. You will renounce the power of money over you, so that you can use all of God’s good gifts including money and time to the glory of God and the good of the world God so loves. You will reorder your life and time and especially your money so that you can truly and freely say: thanks be to God. Amen.